The Glory of the Cross

‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.’

After His arrival into Jerusalem, in the days preceding His passion, death and resurrection, Jesus spoke these words (John 12:27), and articulated the sense of intent described at the start of His journey, where Luke says that when ‘the days drew near for him to be received up’, His face was ‘set toward Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:51, 53). This incredible sense of purpose was directed always towards the Cross – for it was this reason that the Son of Man came into the world; that He may die and be raised again, defeating death and freeing those who believe in Him from their sins. To do this was His vocation, and one of which He was utterly aware, knowing that though it may seem others would be in control on the day of His death, He, the Son of God, was laying down His life of His own accord (c.f.; John 10:18).

Despite the knowledge which stemmed from His divine nature giving Jesus this sense of purpose and ultimate command over His destiny, it was still a real human nature that the Second Person of the Trinity was united to, and His soul was therefore still genuinely troubled. In John 12, Jesus elaborates on this ‘purpose’ and this ‘hour’ by asking His Father to ‘glorify thy name’; to which in reply, a voice from heaven says ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’ (v.28). Clearly John sees Jesus’ whole mission, but particularly His ‘lifting up’ on the Cross, as the means by which the Father’s name is glorified. What is this glory, and how does the Cross display it so pre-eminently?

At the very beginning of His ministry, at the wedding of Cana, John says that by the miracle he performed there, Jesus ‘manifested his glory’ (John 2:11); this miracle takes place at the behest of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whose request Jesus responds ‘my hour has not yet come’ (ibid, v.4). Yet Mary has realised that now is the time for Jesus to reveal something of who He really is, and in acquiescing to her request (a subtle Johannine nod to her significance for the early Christians), He recognises that the ‘hour’ has indeed begun – from now on, the vocation for which He came into the world has been propelled into motion, and will be completed on Calvary.

Thus we can see here that not only is Jesus’ ‘hour’ a reference to the Cross in particular, but also to His whole saving mission; and that it is inseparably linked to this concept of ‘glory’. Therefore, it seems that this glory is something revealed about Jesus in general, and also revealed perfectly and completely in His passion, death, as well as His Resurrection (c.f.; John 12:16 – ‘his disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him’ – the disciples are looking back at events in the light of the Risen Jesus. Also in 7:39, John says that ‘as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified’ – referring to the post-resurrection event of Jesus’ delivering the gift of the Holy Spirit in 20:22).

A passage key to all the evangelists’ understanding of Jesus’ salvific death (and almost certainly key to Jesus’ self-understanding of it) is the ‘suffering servant’ section in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. John actually makes specific reference to this passage in 12:38, quoting Isaiah 53:1 – ‘Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ – and then explicitly states (referring to the vision in Isaiah 6) that ‘Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him’ (John 12:41). Clearly John saw Isaiah as having seen the pre-incarnate Word in his vision, and associated the glory manifested in that vision with the picture later drawn by the prophet of the suffering servant who ‘bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’ (Isaiah 53:12).

Thus the Cross can be seen as the way in which the fullness of Jesus’ glory is revealed, because it is precisely in His suffering and death that He shows who He really is – the Word of God, the only Son of the Father. How is it though that the Cross does this; how is it that by this the Father’s name is glorified? It is clear throughout John’s Gospel that what Jesus does and who Jesus is represents what the Father does and who the Father is – e.g.; ‘the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing’ (John 5:19-20). So, firstly, the manner of Jesus’ suffering and death must be characteristic of what God is really like, who He, in essence, is.

Secondly, the manner of Jesus’ suffering and death is that of self-sacrificial love – it is an utter emptying out of the self on behalf of others, even in the face of manifest animosity, betrayal and abandonment. Therefore, the Son glorifies the Father’s name by displaying the very heart of God, by showing that God is by nature self-emptying, self-giving love. The Cross is the means by which this is shown to the world, and by which Jesus is shown to truly be the Father’s Son: in the life of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, we see a life of complete integrity, lived out of an obedient love towards His eternal Father, to the point where what we see this man doing is who God is and what God does.

This then is the glory of God – the manifestation of His true nature, which is eternal, abiding, steadfast love. The glory which ‘filled the tabernacle’ in the desert, so that Moses could not enter it (Exodus 40:36), which ‘was like a devouring fire’ to the people of Israel when seen atop Mount Sinai (ibid, 24:17) was displayed for all those with eyes to see on Calvary, and by which we now are ‘changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Corinthians 3:18), is a selfless love which pours itself out eternally and blazes ceaselessly, desiring only the good of the other, and wishing to ‘draw all men’ (John 12:32) into its embrace. The Cross thus simultaneously displays to the world that Jesus is the true Son of God, and the true nature of God Himself.

The Resurrection and Ascension cannot be separated from this display of glory on Calvary, as they are confirmation of what Jesus has said and done – they show that the light of God’s love that Jesus has shown to the world in His suffering and death is truly of divine origin and cannot be conquered by evil, not even by death itself. Without the Resurrection and the return of Jesus to His heavenly Father, the Cross would be seen as one crucifixion amongst many, and the words Jesus spoke to His disciples would have rung empty, even seeming to be misleading and cruel. Yet after Easter morning, the light of the new creation shines back into the darkness of Good Friday, and the full significance of all that Jesus’ was, said and did is confirmed and magnified.

Just as Jesus’ death is inseparable from His life and mission, the glory He reveals on the Cross is inseparable from His raising up, and the significance of this relationship for John can be seen in the fact that he not only relates more resurrection appearances than the other evangelists, but that they are portrayed so vividly. If nothing else gives credence to the long-held tradition (which I personally agree with wholeheartedly) that John, son of Zebedee was the author of the Gospel attributed to him, the deft personal touches of these resurrection narratives certainly do.

Moreover though, it is clear that, once this relationship is recognised, and Calvary is seen in the light of Easter, John intends us to see the Cross as the ultimate manifestation of God’s glory – which is His love. It is this love that saves us, and this Cross by which our salvation is achieved; it is this love that passed through and conquered death, and which we are invited to live our lives in harmony with, by following Our Lord, taking up our own crosses, and becoming a new creation in Christ.

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